By Ben Sutter, firstname.lastname@example.org
What is Church? This summer, as a ministry inquiry intern with Franconia Conference, I have seen Church live in so many ways. I’ve interacted and reacted to people, thoughts, and spiritual movements around me. I’ve asked questions. I have seen the incredible similarities and vast differences between what people call ‘Church.’
Can a conference be Church? What about a denomination? Can one person start Church? Can Church be one person? What is Church anyway? Am I a part of Church? How do I even start to define it?
The first encounter I had with Church this summer was at a Fund for Theological Education Conference in New Orleans. I spent five days with other undergraduate and graduate students talking about the role of Church in our lives and how it will continue to shape our futures.
During a tour of the city, we visited First Grace Methodist Church, a post-Katrina congregation born in the merging of a historically black congregation with a historically white congregation. One of our guides suggested that Church is like gumbo. She described this gumbo-Church as a bunch of stuff all thrown together that makes something wonderful—butyou don’t really want to know what’s in it.
Church can feel like that sometimes.
Pittsburgh convention this July offered another view of Church, this time within the denominational structure of Mennonite Church USA. People joined together from across the country to define where the denomination now finds itself. There were discussions, conversation rooms, and delegate sessions full of people sharing their stories. Many of these stories included pain. People and institutions can habitually and unintentionally harm those around them.
Does Church hurt people?
After convention, I traveled to Baltimore to visit Nueva Esperanza Baltimore, a Spanish-speaking church plant. The neighborhood of the church plant was desolate; it didn’t take much effort to spot a drug deal, a fist fight, or a prostitute—all in the middle of the day. Ubaldo Rodriguez, Nueva Esperanza’s pastor, hopes to build something from that desolation. But when does it become more than a pastor trying to build a congregation?
When does it become Church?
I also traveled with a group to Mexico City to build relationships with Church. The Bible School we helped with was an outreach that impacted the neighborhood. Alicia Alvarez and Ariel Avila, our hosts, had hearts for God and an incredible work ethic. But Fraternidad Christiana Prensa, their congregation, is in the midst of conflict. The long-time families of the church find themselves on opposing sides of many different issues and unable to agree.
Does Church argue?
Last Sunday evening I was driving home with my roommate, Ardi. When I told him I was writing a blog post about Church, he chimed in.
“Many people think that church is the building, that it’s just what they do on Sunday morning,” he said. “Each one of us is Church. Church happens every day, all the time, whenever we connect with God. We become sanctuaries for God, the Church.”
Cutting through all my questions, an unanticipated comment provides an answer. What is Church? These moments are Church. Church is something beautiful, something beautiful that lives.
We are Church.